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Nigeria on suicide slide, may not see another June 12, Soyinka warns

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Urges President to stop exuding false confidence, listen to citizens, restructure the country
• PDP governors decry FG’s excessive borrowing, NNPC’s opaque operations
• Want Twitter to ban reviewed in nation’s interest

Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka has said that Nigeria may not celebrate another Democracy Day as one nation if President Muhammadu Buhari fails to listen to the people and decentralise the system of government.

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Soyinka said this yesterday during an interview with Arise News, which focused on June 12 Democracy Day commemoration in Nigeria, where he described the country as a plane that is on a suicide slide, and that the citizens have the right to exit the plane before it nosedives.

He urged President Buhari to stop exuding false confidence and speak like a leader who is ready to take action concerning the country’s challenges.

“And that is what’s happening to people in the streets. That’s why they are moving, that’s why they are demonstrating; that’s why they are defying even threats from the police and the government – If you demonstrate, we will do this, if you do this, we will deal with you, we will talk to you in language which you understand – it does not wash with anybody any longer. Because if a nation is on a suicide slide, the people who feel that they do not deserve that kind of suicidal plunge have a right to say they are getting off this plane before it nosedives.”

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The Nobel laureate noted that the upsurge in secessionist agitation in the country in recent times stemmed from Buhari’s refusal to listen to Nigerians.

When asked the question: “Do you think Nigeria can continue as one?” Soyinka responded: “Not if it continues this way. Not if it fails to decentralise. If Nigeria fails to decentralise, and I mean to decentralise as fast as possible, manifestly and not as rhetoric, then Nigeria cannot stay together.

“Again, it is not Wole Soyinka saying this. Everybody has said it: ex-heads of state have said it; politicians have said it; analysts have said it; economists have said it, and sometimes we get tired. 

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“I am saying this whole nation is about to self-destruct and I am not the only one saying it, except Buhari and his government listen and take action, we would not celebrate another Democracy Day come next year.

“Take for instance the position of the Southern governors on open grazing, at least 50 per cent of a nation are saying that within this democratic dispensation we are operating, we are saying on behalf of our people, we do not want open grazing anymore and then somebody sits in Aso Rock and says to them, I am instructing my Attorney-General to dig up some kind of colonial law, which arbitrated between farmers and herders.

“This means that he is not listening to what the people are saying, he is not listening to what the government representing them is saying. When I listen to things like that, I really despair. His last interview was instructive, not that there was anything new in it, one was just hoping that this government has transcended that kind of partisan thinking.”

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Soyinka noted that President Buhari is abrogating the essence of democracy, saying there are lots of responsibilities, implications and commitment involved in a practicing democratic regime. According to him, democracy does not rest only on a sequence of symbolic gestures such as restoring June 12 as democracy day but an act that ought to be manifested consistently without an exception.

Commenting on the recent ban on Twitter in Nigeria, Soyinka observed that truncating the various channels of self-expression open to any polity amounted to absolutely abrogating the very essence of democracy.

“When you truncate any channel of self-expression of a people, you are literally becoming an enemy of democracy. It is so obvious and plain that I don’t even understand why one has to expatiate on it,” he said.

He noted that kidnapping had become a business in the western corridors of Lagos, Ogun, Kwara and other states but the President often come on air to act as nothing had happened. Soyinka argued that the creation of a regional security outfit, Western Nigeria Security Network codenamed Operation Amotekun, was a result of the frustration and desperation felt by the people.

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According to him, Buhari was still asleep and unaware that the nation had changed dramatically over the last few years.

Soyinka stated that it was about time the president sacked most of the people in government around him, saying they are not doing him or the nation any service.

“I think they are people who say to him the things he wants to hear, if he is depending on them, his government is doomed and so is this nation. During this so-called democracy day, it’s time for some drastic thinking on the part of his government.”

ALSO yesterday, state governors under the platform of the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) raised the alarm over the current debt profile of the country put at N36 trillion incurred by the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government. The forum expressed worry that the Federal Government was gradually plunging Nigeria into bankruptcy with its excessive borrowings on frivolous items, adding that over 80 per cent of the Appropriation is being spent on debt servicing.

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In a communiqué issued after a meeting of the PDP Governors Forum in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, the PDP governors also accused the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and other revenue-generating agencies of the Federal Government of lack of transparency and accountability in the declaration of revenue proceeds.

The communiqué read by the Chairman of the Forum and Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, complained that the lack of financial transparency by the NNPC and other agencies has robbed state and local governments of the needed funds to provide employment and develop their territories.

The communiqué reads in part: “PDP Governors frowned on the rising and seemingly uncontrollable debt profile of Nigeria with over 80 per cent of normal Appropriation spent on debt servicing. All the gains of the PDP government under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, where Nigeria exited its foreign debt obligations, have been destroyed.

“Borrowing for frivolous items such as funding the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) is scandalous. Money should only be borrowed for productive purposes as Nigeria’s current debt of over N36 trillion is becoming clearly unsustainable relative to our earnings and GDP. We should not saddle incoming generations with the undue debt burden. The borrowing spree of the APC administration if unchecked will certainly lead Nigeria into avoidable bankruptcy.

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“Also, the Forum examined the operations of NNPC and expressed alarm at the opaque manner it carries out its operations. It decried the recent NNPC’s decision not to make its statutory contributions to the Federation Account, thereby starving the States and Local Governments and indeed Nigerians of funds needed for employment, development and general wellbeing.

“The Federal Government through NNPC is a manager of our oil wealth merely as a trustee for all Nigerians. The meeting frowned on a situation where the NNPC decides in a totally discretionary and often whimsical manner, how much to spend, how to spend it and how much to remit to the Federation Account, contrary to the letters and even the spirit of the 1999 Constitution.

“The meeting called on other agencies of Government such as Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), Customs and Excise and similar organisations that are statutorily required to make contributions into the Federation Account, to do more. The federating States should be going forward now have a say in the determination of operating costs to ensure transparency and accountability.

“The governors reiterated the call for a review of the revenue allocation formula and urged the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission to urgently send the revised Revenue Allocation Formula to Mr President for onward transmission to the National Assembly for enactment, such that more resources are made available to States and Local Governments where ordinary Nigerians reside.”

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The PDP Governors also expressed deep concerns on the recurring question of insecurity of life and property in Nigeria. They reiterated the need to decentralise the operations of the security apparatus of the state within the existing legal framework, to ensure the input of local operators in State and Local Governments in policing and security. 

“It lamented the fact that Mr President seems not to be aware that the coercive instruments of state security is firmly within his hands and not the Governors, considering his recent media interview on the subject. The meeting reminded Mr. President that he has ultimate authority under the Constitution over security organisations, even though the states have a role to play. Cooperation and synergy between States and the Federal Government in security operations is critical in securing Nigeria.

“In any case, even though police is on the Exclusive List, the states, as a practical matter spend huge sums of money to support the security agencies to carry out their duties. The need for an appropriate legal framework to involve the states in policing has become even more urgent by the day. To this end, we reiterate our call for the National Assembly to expedite action in passing the Electoral Act and Constitution amendments to ensure restructuring and decentralisation of governmental powers and functions.”

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On the suspension of Twitter, the meeting condemned the personalised reasons given for the action. “The mere ego of Mr President is not enough for such a drastic action that deprives millions of Nigerians of such an affordable means of expression and communication. We hope that this is not a harbinger or early warning signs of descent into dictatorship.

“The meeting noted that social media regulation can only be done within the existing laws on the subject and should not be used as an attempt to punish or gag Nigerians from enjoying constitutionally guaranteed rights. Nigerian youths do not have adequate access to employment and a lot of Nigerians rely on Twitter for their livelihood, businesses and self-employment. This will further worsen Nigeria’s 33 per cent unemployment rate, which is the highest in the world, improve Nigeria’s ranking as the country with second-highest poverty rate in the entire world, all of which happened under APC’s unfortunate stewardship. 

“The meeting consequently requested Mr President to review the suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria in the national interest.” 

The meeting was attended by Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State (Chairman); Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia; Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom; Douye Diri (Bayelsa); Samuel Ortom (Benue); Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta); Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu); Nyesom Wike (Rivers); Oluseyi Makinde (Oyo); Ahmadu Fintiri (Adamawa); Godwin Obaseki (Edo); Bala Mohammed (Bauchi); Darius Ishaku (Taraba); and Deputy Governor Mahdi Mohd of Zamfara State.

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